Going back to the original

In tomorrow’s service, we’re thinking about using a brief reading from Singing the Living Tradition, the current Unitarian Universalist hymnal, that goes like this: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

In the hymnal, this quotation is attributed to Albert Schweitzer. So I decided to look it up: which of Schweitzer’s works did it come from? I found that this quotation sometimes appears online in a different form — which you would expect, since Schweitzer was not a native speaker of English and the quotation would have been translated from his German original — and the alternative version goes like this: “Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”

It turns out the quotation comes from Schweitzer’s Aus meiner Kindheit und Jugendzeit (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1924). It is from a short essay titled “Influence” found in chapter five of the memoir. The complete short essay is richer and more interesting than the short quotation in the hymnal, and for the sake of reference I have included C. T. Campion’s standard 1924 translation of the passage at the end of this post.

I still don’t know who did the translation of the quotation that’s in the hymnal; it’s not from Campion’s translation; but at least I can confirm that Schweitzer wrote a German original of this quotation. And I can also say that I wish the compilers of the hymnal had included the next sentence from Schweitzer’s essay:— “If we had before us those who have thus been a blessing to us, and could tell them how it came about, they would be amazed to learn what passed over from their life into ours.”

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